The Post Rips the Bush Economy

The Washington Post is brutal this morning, as well it should be, in its post-mortem on eight years of the Bush economy.

Here you go:

The number of jobs in the nation increased by about 2 percent during Bush’s tenure, the most tepid growth over any eight-year span since data collection began seven decades ago. Gross domestic product, a broad measure of economic output, grew at the slowest pace for a period of that length since the Truman administration. And Americans’ incomes grew more slowly than in any presidency since the 1960s, other than that of Bush’s father.

The paper has Bush’s own people disparaging his record:

“The expansion was a continuation of the way the U.S. has grown for too long, which was a consumer-led expansion that was heavily concentrated in housing,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a onetime Bush White House staffer and one of Sen. John McCain’s top economic advisers for his presidential campaign. “There was very little of the kind of saving and export-led growth that would be more sustainable.”

“For a group that claims it wants to be judged by history, there is no evidence on the economic policy front that that was the view,” Holtz-Eakin said. “It was all Band-Aids.”

And Kevin “Dow 36,000” Hassett, also a former staffer:

The highest praise Hassett offers for Bush’s economic legacy is that “the economy was caught up in a storm while he was president, but it wasn’t his fault.”

“In the end, to the extent there ends up being a defense of the Bush presidency” on economic issues, “that’s about the best you can get.”

Ladies and gents: The rats are abandoning the ship. Should be an interesting next couple of years of memoirs.

There’s no doubt that Bush’s economic record has been terrible, just look at the soaring deficits caused by its huge tax cuts and multiple wars. But I think the Post should have better explained that presidents aren’t all-powerful when it comes to the economy. In fact, the Fed chairman usually has more influence than the president does.

And the paper is not fair to Bush in not explaining clearly that he took office during a recession that had nothing to do with him. That recession resulted in a jobless recovery that dragged on for a couple of years, weighing down his numbers. The paper should have made that clear when it cherry-picked this number, for instance:

For example, for the first seven years of the Bush administration, gross domestic product grew at a paltry 2.1 percent annual rate.

But the Post is correct to point out that the “good” economic years of Bush’s presidency, from 2003 to 2007, were due in large part to the massive credit bubble, which swelled the ranks of financial firms and created lots of well-paying jobs in construction, mortgage brokering, and real-estate agencies.

And I like this:

Bush did not steer the country toward a more sound long-term fiscal position.

Simple, unsourced, and undeniable.

It’s a good story overall by the Post, calling it like it is.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.